Refugee Interview: Gaw Sai Paw’s Journey from Camp to Canada

20 Jun Refugee Interview: Gaw Sai Paw’s Journey from Camp to Canada

Gaw Sai Paw and her daughter Ku Paw Hser fled their home in Myanmar in 2003 to escape violence in their region. Their journey has been a long one. They have called Mae La Refugee camp in Thailand home since 2003.  They were selected to immigrate to Canada in 2011, and finally resettling at the end of 2016; marking the end of a life-in-limbo for 13 years.
COA refugee facilitator, Mr. Noparat “Nop” Thiannimitdomrong, was fortunate to interview the pair before their departure to Canada at Mae La in October 2016.
Life & Family

Where are you originally from? How long have you lived in Thailand? Did the whole family come together?

My husband and I are from the Tha Hton Township in Mon State, Southern Myanmar. We fled from our home to the Mae La Refugee Camp in 2003, where I settled with my daughter. We spent 6 months in the camp together before my husband and I separated. He resettled to the United States with his new family in 2014.

Nop 2

Noparat Thiannimitdomrong

COA Refugee Facilitator
Gaw Sai Paw (right) and Ku Paw Hser (left) after their COA session at Mae La Camp, Thailand.
Gaw Sai Paw (right) and Ku Paw Hser (left) after their COA session at Mae La Camp, Thailand.

What has living in Mae La Refugee Camp been like? 

We felt fortunate to be here as we didn’t have anywhere else to turn to. There was a lot of fighting going on when we fled our homes.  We lost our house and our land. Our friends from Mon state asked if we would join them on the journey to Thailand.

At first, we were hesitant, as my daughter was very young. We eventually decided to make the trip to Thailand by foot, and walked for a week until we reached the Thai border and entered the Mae La Camp, with no status.

In 2004, we were registered and afforded protection by the UNHCR. Our life in Mae La was very simple, but safe, and we were provided with food and a small one-room shelter for the whole family. My daughter had the opportunity to pursue a limited education at the camp, although there was a shortage of good sources and materials.

In 2011, we applied for settlement to Canada, where we finally could have hope for a better life and freedom of movement.


Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand. (Cred. Mikhail Esteves via Wikimedia Commons.)

Do you have any friends or relatives in Canada?

Yes. I have friends who live in Vancouver, British Columbia. We were like family and have been in contact for a long time.

COA Session

How much did you know about Canada before the COA session you attended in Mae La camp?

We knew very little about Canada, but having friends there played a big role in our choice to move there. They told us about all of the opportunities and other great things waiting for us after arrival.

How did you feel now after attending a COA session?

First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to attend the COA session. Apart from what my friends told me, I have learned so much more from the session.

The COA session was very fun and informative. We learned a lot over the three days, including about many life skills and norms in Canada that are completely different from those in my culture. Attending the pre-departure session took away my fears, letting me know that I would receive both social and financial support upon arrival, until I could get myself settled. I have learned that, if I put in my best effort, I won’t suffer and will fit into Canadian society well, despite any culture shock I might experience.

After the session, I made a promise to myself to be a good mother, and to try whatever it takes to survive, knowing that we will finally have a good life.

Which COA topics do you think were the most beneficial for you? 

I enjoyed the travel topic the most because I have never traveled by plane before. It was very practical information for my upcoming journey. Before that, I was concerned and nervous about what might happen to us on such a long flight. Learning that there will be support available to us along the journey has made me and my daughter a lot more comfortable.

I also liked the section on education, and my daughter will finally have a chance to further her education, as she always dreamed of. I don’t plan to go to school myself, but I would like to learn English for my future career.

Would you recommend your friends for participation in COA?

Definitely. COA is the first step towards hope for us. I have already told my friends how much we enjoyed the session and its content.


 What are your expectations of your new life in Canada?

I decided to come to Canada largely for my daughter’s future. I hope we can have a better life there. I wish my daughter can be free to do what she loves to do. That is my wish for going to Canada.

We can finally have something called “a home”. Although living in the camp was safer than in our country of origin, we haven’t been able to travel freely for a long time.

What will be your biggest challenges after settling in Canada?

My biggest challenge will be the language. My knowledge of English is very limited. The best thing I can do is practice, but I am also a slow learner. I hope I can finally communicate with Canadian people, and I also hope they won’t judge us.

How long do you think it will take to achieve your settlement goals?

I can’t tell how long it will take for me to be successful in Canada. I just know it will take a long time for me, but I also know it is possible as long as I try hard.